Editorial: Stop charging for books

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

While shopping courses, many students are aware that they are also shopping for textbooks. In addition to the $59,428 that we pay in tuition, professors request that students shell out what can often add up to thousands of dollars for reading materials. We urge the University to address the ever-pressing concern of the rising cost of college, on the grounds of not just tuition, but the associated costs of necessary academic materials.

As denoted by the University’s cost of attendance, students should reasonably expect to spend $1,420 on books over the course of an academic year. The costs inevitably vary across courses and departments and differ on a vendor-by-vendor basis, creating a dynamic wherein particular students face an inequitable burden. While seemingly convenient modes of purchase, the Brown Bookstore and Allegra hold a monopoly on the proverbial Brown book market and force students to buy their materials at heightened levels for the invaluable price of convenience and sheer product “availability.” Internet book retailers such as Amazon do allow students to explore a broader range of book options; however, the issue of cost — at its core — is under the purview of the University and should be addressed as such.

The cost of textbooks is of concern not just for the large sum, but also because it is effectively a flat tax levied across all students. Most fees, including group activities and athletics, are rolled into tuition and appropriately scaled depending on a student’s economic situation. But, except in the case of certain scholarships, all students — whether they are paying full tuition or no tuition — are subject to the $1,420 expenditure. Like a sales tax, this places an unfair burden on those with less disposable income.

The cost of materials is not a problem without solutions. In Sunday’s Boston Globe, former Herald editor-in-chief Ben Schreckinger ’12 penned an op-ed urging universities to embrace open textbooks for their lower costs and arguably greater academic value. But students are unlikely to see such reforms unless the University is forced to confront the costs. The administration would either have to raise tuition at a time of historic hikes or rein in spending. Under this pressure, it would hopefully use its buying power to either negotiate more economical contracts with publishers and Allegra or search for alternatives such as open textbooks. The University should include the cost of materials in tuition both to more fairly spread the burden across students and to force the administration and professors to search for more sustainable solutions.

Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board, led by James Rattner ’15 and Alexander Kaplan ’15. The editorial page is currently seeking applications for students who would like to contribute. Please contact Rattner or Kaplan if you are interested in joining the board. Send comments to

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  1. With the exception of custom packets, I am highly skeptical of the claim that Brown holds any sort of monopoly. Every book I’ve ever encountered was always on sale on Amazon for a lower price. It was also always also in stock, a basic feat often failed by the bookstore. Basically, you’re a terrible shopper if you buy anything in that bookstore to begin with. lrn2internet.

    Who do we expect to pay for the books, if not the students? You can’t hike up tuition on the other students who don’t pay for textbooks who are just as poor. It’s a zero-sum game. What’s fair is you supporting your own education.

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